Lightning flashed outside the window, and the magic lamps lighting the mansion went out all at once. It was an ill prank pulled by fate that the moment they got covered in darkness, the cupboard fell and the dishes shattered, making a crashing noise.
Swiftly following the blackout and the continuous sound of destruction, a high-pitched scream was let out.
The one who had screamed after hearing the final death throes of the dishes was a maid with beautiful long blonde hair. She was slender and tall yet had an attractive figure rich in feminine charms. Her almond-shaped eyes looked like jade gemstones, and her mouth, the origin of said scream, was adorned with a row of beautiful white teeth. However, even though some of her teeth were sharp and giving her a rather ferocious look—
“Eek! Eeeek! It’s a hollow! A hollow is here! Hey, Petra!? Are you okay!? Petra! Ram!”
She was shaking with tears flowing down her face. Her appearance was anything but ferocious, but in fact emphasized the fragile, feminine part of herself.
In the darkness, the woman grabbed a piece of cloth within her reach and desperately pulled it close to her body. “Pe-Pe-Pe-Petra…? Or is it you, Ram? Anyway-anyway, I’m glad you are safe. We need to get out of here before it’s too late…”
“Ha! Petra!? Is that you?”
The woman—Frederica—turned around towards the direction of the voice—but said voice had come from the opposite direction of the person she was holding.
Her pupils narrowed in the darkness, and what appeared was a young, dainty girl. It was a lovely girl wearing a maid outfit with a big ribbon on her head—Petra—the girl whom Frederica adored the most like a younger sister.
Frederica felt relieved after seeing that Petra hadn’t been harmed in any way. “Oh, Petra… I’m glad you’re safe,” she said. “That must mean I have Ram in my arms. She is being quite docile…”
“What are you saying, Frederica? Ram is over here.”
After hearing an unapologetic voice, the owner of said voice appeared next to Petra. It was a girl with short pink hair and a pretty, plucky face. Standing with perfect posture strangely suited her, and it stood true even in the abyssal darkness.
“Oh, oh my, Ram…so you were with Petra. Well, in that case…”
“Yes, Ram was with her—what did you mistake Ram for?”
“I was trying not to think about that…!”
Frederica turned her head with a creaking sound in response to Ram’s merciless question. She then looked down at the person she was holding tightly in her arms. Just at that moment, there was a flash of lightning, brightly illuminating a mysterious figure.
It was a doll around the size of a toddler with a missing eyeball. When the doll’s single eye met Frederica’s, it relaxed its lips and smiled.
“Noooooo!!” Frederica let out a scream, which was just one of many she had let out that day.
It all started two days ago…
“Cleaning the villa and replacing the furniture?” asked Frederica.
“Yes, thaaat’s right,” Roswaal replied with a gentle smile, his hands clasped together on the desk. “I wanted to aaask you three to do that.”
Roswaal directed his gentle smile at the three maids who worked in the mansion. Lined up by height and ordered by size starting with the largest, the three girls were Frederica, Ram, and Petra.
Amongst the three that he had summoned to his room, it was Petra who raised her hand. “A villa… Is that different from the old mansion that burned down?”
“Ah, it’s diiifferent. I liked that mansion though, but…”
“Oh, I’m not asking you, Master. I’m asking them.”
Petra brushed Roswaal, who tried to answer her question, off with a smile, causing Frederica to hold a hand to her forehead. “Petra…”
Even from Frederica’s point of view, Roswaal and Petra’s relationship was shattered into pieces and would be difficult to piece back together. As someone in a subordinate position, her attitude wasn’t all that great, but Roswaal was the one who’d caused her to behave in such a way to begin with.
Roswaal tended to forgive Petra’s attitude and was in a good mood despite her rude response just now. Meaning Frederica could do nothing to correct her behavior.
Even so, Ram, who admired Roswaal, wasn’t all too happy about it, but…
“Ram won’t tolerate such an attitude toward Master Roswaal, Petra.”
“I’m sorry, Sister Ram. But even if I get scolded, I want to make our master feel bad…”
“So you’ve already made up your mind. It’s fine, then. Since it also creates a job that only Ram can do, which is to console Master Roswaal whenever you hurt his feelings.”
“Enough with that, you two! Not even I would be able to tolerate it!” scolded Frederica.
Despite their opposing responses to Roswaal, who stood between them, they somehow get along quite well.
Stepping closer to her disgruntled juniors, Frederica said, “Master, don’t just enjoy yourself, you need to give her a proper warning. Otherwise, it will cause trouble for me by disturbing the public morals of the mansion. To make matters worse…”
“To make matters worse, aaaand then what?”
“To make matters worse, Sir Subaru and Garf are already disturbing it…”
Frederica thought of the black-haired boy that lived in the mansion and her incompetent younger brother. If you added in the young man in charge of internal affairs, that would be all the men working at Roswaal Manor. They all acted their age, or rather, were a bit immature.
“Mister Otto seems normal,” said Frederica, “but he becomes the most dangerous of the three when the other two get involved…”
“Oh, I get what you mean,” Petra replied. “Otto has a face saying, I’m perfectly normal, but he says the most menacing things out of the blue.”
“Everyone agrees that he is the most dangerous of the bunch,” added Ram.
“Oh myyy, I can’t ever allow Otto know of what was spoken here todaaay.”
The young man, who was being talked about in a place he wasn’t present, sneezed at his workplace.
After getting off track… “Anyway.” …Frederica brought the conversation back to the main topic. “It has been a couple of months since we moved to the main residence and we are finally settling in, so what made you want to work on the villa?”
“A most natural question indeed. But the reaaaason isn’t that complicated. It has been several months since the royal selection officially began, and the candidates have each started making their moves, so we can’t afford to get left behind. As for the negotiations with influential people from various areas… I know I am in no position to talk, but there are a looot of nefarious characters in the Western Margrave Domain. Negotiations aren’t going to be easy by any means.”
“—? What does that have to do with the villa…?” Petra wondered.
“It’s simple, Petra,” Ram began. “In short, Master Roswaal and Lady Emilia will soon be going to different places themselves to do things. And for such occasions, it’s better to have as many lodging options as you can get… Fortunately, House Mathers owns villas in various regions, so it’s quite convenient.”
Ram took over Roswaal’s explanation, and Petra nodded after understanding what it meant. “Oh, so that’s how it is…”
Glancing at Petra out of the corner of her eye, Frederica continued. “Well then,” she said. “We’ll start communicating with the various villas in order. Am I correct?”
“Yes, that’s right. For now, I want to get Viscount Torion Arus on our side. So it would be beeest to start with the one closest to his mansion.”
“In that case, would it be the mansion in San Fantrus? It’s a little far though…”
Following Roswaal’s suggestion, Frederica spread the map on the wall on the desk and tried to confirm the villa Roswaal had indicated, but Ram, who was watching from the side, raised an eyebrow. “No, not there,” she declared, then pointed at a forest not too far from their objective. “Here it is.”
“Here?” asked Petra. “But it’s just a forest with nothing marked there, Sister Ram.”
“On a normal map, yes. But an old mansion owned by House Mathers is there. That’s correct, right, Master Roswaal?”
“…Oh myyy, it seems it’s still fresh in your memory despite it being something from around 10 years ago.”
“That’s because Ram has memories of being there with you, Master Roswaal,” answered Ram in her frank manner of speaking, causing Roswaal to lower his eyebrows and give a faint wry smile.
Ram’s speech and conduct haven’t changed over the years, but it seems like Master’s response to it has, thought Frederica. As someone who has known them personally for a long time, I am deeply moved by this, but…we should be talking about the mansion that isn’t on the map.
“I see that it is a mansion that even I do not know about. Well, what is it…”
“You wouldn’t know of it, of course—it’s not a villa, it’s a workshop,” Roswaal explained. “My predecessor used it…but it’s been abandoned for several years now.”
“A workshop, I see,” parroted Frederica, touching her cheek and thinking about it.
Roswaal’s predecessor—Roswaal K. Mathers—was the genius of the century who devoted himself to the development and practical application of magic tools that used magic stones as their source of power. Since the head of the Mathers family took on the name of Roswaal generation after generation, their names never changed, and each of them was a genius that displayed remarkable abilities.
“If that’s the case, was anything left behind by your predecessors?” asked Frederica.
“No, anything useful will have been taken ooouut, so it should be completely empty. But its positioning is ideal. I’d be very grateful if I could use it.”
“I see, but then we don’t really need three peop—” Just as she was about to say that, Frederica guessed what Roswaal’s aim was.
If the job was merely cleaning and repairing the old villa, there was clearly no reason for all three maids to go there, Frederica could do it all by herself. However, since he wanted them to do this together, the reason was obvious: it was to get them to learn how to work together.
Including the contrasting attitudes of Ram and Petra towards Roswaal before, the communication between the three maids working at Roswaal Manor was not yet perfect. However, as mentioned above, the royal selection had already begun, so they couldn’t just wait around for their trust to deepen.
So by completing the task he gave us, the three of us will learn to work together and strengthen our communication, thought Frederica. “I understand, Master. Please leave this task to us. I will fulfill your wishes, both the obvious and the hidden one!”
“The obvious and the hidden…?”
“Yes, you can count on me!”
Roswaal frowned for a moment at Frederica, who had thumped her chest. But the enthusiastic sentence that followed made him say, “I suppose that’s fine,” before nodding. “Alriiight then, I’ll relay my orders once again: you are to investigate the mansion that used to be my predecessor’s workshop, make repairs, and make it habitable by replacing the furniture and tidying it up.”
“Yes, sir! Leave it to us!”
With these instructions from Roswaal, the three girls quickly finished their preparations and departed for their destination: the workshop.
“So this is the previous Master’s mansion?”
Petra blinked as she looked at the completely dilapidated mansion in front of her. It was natural for her to do so, since its appearance starkly contrasted with the other villas owned by House Mathers. The mansion was in the middle of a dense forest, exposed to ivy, weeds, and ravaged by wild animals, and at first glance, it didn’t seem like it was currently fit for human habitation.
Nonetheless, the three of them would have to spend the night in said mansion.
“It will rain soon, so going back to the nearest town isn’t a realistic option,” said Ram.
“Uuh, I’m sorry…” replied Petra sulkily.
“It is not your fault, Petra,” Frederica consoled, patting her shoulders to limit the extent of her depression. “That wild bird’s cunningness is to blame.”
By the time the three of them arrived at the mansion, the sun had already set and it had become dark. They were originally scheduled to arrive during the day, but the reason why this did not happen was written on Petra’s downcast face.
“If only I hadn’t let the bird steal the luggage…” she lamented.
“Talking about “what-ifs” won’t change anything,” asserted Ram. “We need to be thankful that you didn’t get kidnapped by that cunning bird. Birds like that can easily kidnap children.”
“I’m not! I’m not that small! I’m not that much different from you!”
“Ha-ha, that’s right. We’re like a speck of dust compared to Frederica.”
“A speck of dust is going a bit far! What do you think I am!?”
Frederica raised her voice in response to the absurd claim, which Ram brushed off with an “Alright, alright.”
I know that that conversation was to get Petra to not feel unnecessary remorse, but I still think there were other ways to handle it. “Such things about you haven’t changed at all since the olden days…”
“But Sister Ram is right. We can’t go back to the town, can we? So, are we going to stay in this mansion…or rather, what used to be one?”
“I guess so. In this place that used to be a mansion, we have to—” Frederica stopped when she was about to say that they had to spend the night there.
“—? Sister Frederica?” Petra said as she looked up at Frederica by her side, who had become quiet.
Frederica, however, couldn’t respond to Petra right away. She had suddenly come back to her senses as she stared at the dilapidated mansion in front of her. “…A night in this mansion?”
So I have to spend the night here. Frederica faced the reality that she didn’t want to face and froze. Thinking that saying it out loud would only set it in stone, she swallowed, bitterness mixed in with her saliva.
“Yes, we have no other option but to stay here,” Ram declared. “Let’s hurry up and go inside.”
“…R-Ram…How can you just say it so bluntly…”
“What are you making such a fuss about? Could it be that you’re…scared?” Ram quipped, squinting as she lowered her voice.
That gave Frederica goosebumps. “Gh!”
As she involuntarily choked—
“Sister?” Petra said, pulling on her sleeve. “You aren’t scared, are you? Sister Frederica?”
“I-I am not scared! Not at all, it isn’t like that! It’s just that… Um, I only wanted to say that it does not look very safe.”
—It was a lie. She was scared.
Frederica bluffed greatly in front of her beloved sister.
Frederica was basically someone who avoided singing her own praises or pretending to be someone she isn’t, but when it came to Petra, whom she adored, it was different. She wanted to be an admirable sister figure for her.
Ram and Garfiel are children who aren’t cute at all compared to Petra, she thought. That’s why she wanted the cute Petra to see her cool side.
“I’m just not sure if we can survive a night in a rundown mansion that has been abandoned for decades. It would be wiser to find a cave in the woods that’s facing a cliff.”
“Searching for a cave that we don’t even know exists is wiser?” questioned Ram. “Frederica, do you have a fever or something?”
“I-I know! It was just a joke! I didn’t mean it! Let’s just start chopping the trees over there down and build a cabin for the three of us to live in for a while and…”
“S-Sister? Are you sure you’re okay? I think you’ll feel better if you sit and rest for a…”
“Arrrgh…!” Her brain, dominated by fear and shame, couldn’t come up with a good idea. “It’s true that I’m not good at building things. That I couldn’t even realize that, is such a…”
“Ram thinks that the problem lies elsewhere, but never mind.” She ignored Frederica reflecting upon her words and stared at the exterior of the mansion. She then shrugged lightly and looked back at Petra, not Frederica, who was useless. “After a quick glance, it doesn’t look as unfixable as it first appeared. Ram will take care of the luggage, so can you kindly go around back and take a look around?”
“Yes, alright, Sister Ram. So are you going to stay here and rest, Sister Frederica…?”
“No-no, I can’t let you go alone. I will accompany you.”
I am grateful for their concern, but I can’t afford to lose heart here, she thought. Neither can I let Petra act alone in a place that gives me such an ominous feeling.
“—. Can you move?”
“I can move. Who do you think I am? I am the head servant of Margrave Mathers, Frederica Baumann!” she proudly declared, a hand on her well-endowed chest.
Petra clapped, exclaiming, “Big Sister, you are so cool!”
For a split second she felt a questioning gaze from Ram as though saying, “Was there a reason to introduce yourself like that here…?” but Frederica chose to ignore it and rallied herself up.
“Well then, let’s get going, Petra. Let’s hold hands.”
“Huh? Ah, ok, that’s right. Let’s go, Sister Frederica.”
Frederica started walking with Petra, who had grabbed her extended hand and seemed excited. Ram sighed while looking at the two from behind and then got to work.
So, having left Ram at the front, the two headed around the back, only to find themselves in a difficult spot. The back of the villa was several times more eroded than the front, and Frederica’s clothing was only intended for cleaning the vacant villa—it was in no way fit for this.
“I didn’t think it would be this bad. What should we do…”
“Oh, Sister! Sister!” shouted Petra. “The ivy is soft here, so we can push it aside and get through.”
“Oh my, I am surprised that you were able to notice that.”
Petra was incredibly proud of herself for checking her surroundings just as they were on the verge of losing their way. “Ehehehe,” she giggled cutely at the praise. “It’s because I used to play in the forest with Lucas and the others…with my friends…when I was in the village.”
“It’s such a different experience… It’s been a long time since I last played in a forest.”
Frederica had left the Sanctuary and started working under Roswaal more than a decade ago. She used to play in the forest with her younger brother Garfiel before that, but that was now a distant memory. I used to throw him around and play with him when all he could do was toddle.
“We shouldn’t be reminiscing right now. Let’s move the ivy and make a path through. Ah, but be sure not to touch the ivy or trees with your bare hands…”
“I’ll be fine. I made sure to wear gloves,” Petra said, presenting her gloved hands to Frederica, who then patted her head.
“You are sharp. I’m impressed.”
With that enthusiasm, Petra swiftly moved the ivy out of the way and created a path to the back of the mansion. “Ah,” she exclaimed upon reaching the back. “…The walls of the mansion got damaged over time, forming a hole here.”
“You’re right… The size is a little disconcerting.”
If you looked at it, the hole in the back of the mansion was as big as a child, so it was large enough for Petra, and even Frederica could get through it if she bent down. Whether this was simply the result of the building material being damaged or because wild animals used it to get inside was unclear.
“It’s a house in the middle of the woods, so surely no one is using it… Wait, Petra?”
While Frederica was examining the hole in the mansion, Petra suddenly bent down and slipped right through it.
“Wait, are you alright, Petra!?”
“I’m sorry, Sister Frederica,” apologized Petra. “I’m okay! I just got an urge to go through…”
“Just got an urge… Jeez, this isn’t a game.”
Hearing that from the other side of the hole made Frederica feel relieved. But it was problematic of her to disappear out of sight.
“We’ll close the hole up later, so come back for now…”
“Oh! What was that!?” exclaimed Petra. “I’ll go take a quick look.”
“Ah, Petra, don’t go! Oh, no!” cried Frederica.
Upon finding something of interest, Petra made an exclamation of surprise and then disappeared further in. Frederica admired her courage, but it was an issue that she forgot she was working.
“I guess it can’t be helped. But I can’t let anything happen to Petra…”
If it had been any smaller, she’d have had to just accept the situation, but the hole was of the right size, so that Frederica could also enter it. After a slight hesitation, she made up her mind and followed Petra through the hole. There was no source of light, so it was just as dark as the forest, but…
“—? What’s up with this?” The moment she went inside, Frederica instantly felt the temperature change and tilted her head. It was a strange sensation, as if there was a chill in the dusty air. She couldn’t wrap her head around the anomaly since she heard the sound of the floor creaking before she had a chance to investigate it. She figured that whatever was making that sound was someone light and thus naturally assumed that it was Petra.
“Petra, don’t do anything rash,” Frederica called out. “My heart will not be able to take it.”
“Can you hear me, Petra? Why aren’t you replyi…”
The creaking sound got closer and closer, but there was no reply from Petra at all. Frederica frowned and quietly stared into the darkness.
Frederica had cat-people ancestry, meaning she naturally had good night vision. There was nothing she couldn’t see—even in the dark of night—if she focused. Therefore, she could clearly see that the thing making the footsteps was not Petra, but another being entirely.
For a moment, she thought she was hallucinating—or rather, she hoped she was.
Right after that, she was blinded by a white light. “Argh,” she groaned in agony, feeling a numbing pain in her eyes.
The cause was the light, or more specifically, the light from the magic lamps. The magic lamps installed in the mansion had turned on all at once.
“Sister Frederica! The lights are on!”
As Frederica rubbed her eyes due to the sudden brightness, Petra came running towards her. She felt relieved for a moment upon hearing her voice, but then immediately returned to a state of caution. “Petra! Be careful! There was something inside the mansion!”
Petra, who had come running towards her, opened her eyes wide in surprise. Frederica wrapped her arms around her shoulders and pulled her close, then scanned the brightly lit room. It seemed like the hole in the wall was connected to the guest room.
She glanced around the abandoned room. There was an old wardrobe that had seen better days and a bed frame, but what she was searching for was the figure she had just seen. “A doll… It must have been a doll! A doll walking around on its own…”
“Sister? A doll…?”
“There was a doll walking about! Did you not see it?! exclaimed Frederica while shaking Petra, who answered with a shake of her head. That’s impossible, she thought to herself. Shocked, Frederica quickly scanned the room for the doll that she was certain she had seen earlier. She had definitely seen a doll around where she’d heard the footsteps. She couldn’t convince herself that she’d been mistaken.
“Could it have hidden itself somewhere? Under the bed? Or behind the wardrobe?”
Frederica tried to search for it with her sense of smell, but she didn’t know its scent. Not to mention the room, but the entire mansion was filled with the smell of dust. But there was no way to forget seeing such a thing. In an effort to find the doll, she searched haphazardly around the room.
“Sister Frederica, there’s so much dust!” Petra spluttered while coughing.
“Just endure it for now! More importantly, stay close. I’ll protect you no matter—”
“What are you doing?”
In the midst of explaining the importance of the situation to Petra, whose eyes were still watering from her coughing, she was interrupted by a familiar voice. Looking over towards the entrance, her eyes met Ram’s. Baffled, she looked Frederica up and down. Not understanding her puzzled stare, Frederica looked down at herself and let out a gasp. During her panicked search of the room, she’d gotten covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt.
“Seriously, what are you doing, Frederica?” Ram asked, repeating her question.
“You’re supposed to be setting an example for Petra. How embarrassing.”
At a loss for words due to her sound reasoning, Frederica’s face reddened, and then she cast her eyes downwards.
“It was really there! I saw it with my own two eyes! So, I am absolutely certain that that doll is…”
“Alright, alright, Ram understands. The doll was there. But it’s gone now. That solves it.”
“You don’t believe me! You don’t believe me at all!”
After moving towards the hall, Frederica frantically tried to explain what had happened before. Ram listened, but she didn’t seem to believe her at all.
“Uuh. Petra… Petra, you believe me, right?”
“Yes, I believe you. But for now, we need to do something about your clothes and hair rather than worry about that doll…”
Petra gently wiped her dirty hair and ran a comb through it. Frederica was glad that she believed her and shot a glare at Ram.
“What was it then?” asked Ram.
“I don’t know, but let’s assume that I mistook something else for a doll. It was probably a wild animal or a…”
“Or a doll that moves on its own.”
Frederica felt frustrated by Ram mocking her and tried taking a swipe at her, but Ram swiftly moved out of her range. “Sister!” exclaimed Petra as she brushed Frederica’s dust-covered hair. “Jeez, stay still. You’ll ruin your pretty hair—”
It happened right after Petra said that.
From far away, on the first floor of the mansion, they heard something that sounded like an explosion, making Frederica’s shoulders jump.
The noise wasn’t the sound of footsteps or a building creaking in the wind. The sound was more clear. It sounded like a burst of air.
“Wh-What was that sound!?” exclaimed Frederica, looking towards where the sound came from.
“It sounded kind of weird,” said Petra.
Frederica immediately grabbed Petra’s shoulders and stepped back. “Now do you believe me?” she said with a shaky voice, looking over at Ram. “It seems like there is definitely something else here. We need to…”
“—? What are you saying, Frederica? Stop joking.”
“Wha…!? You st-stop joking around. At a time like this…”
Ram’s words made Frederica doubt herself. Ram, however, was tilting her head. She looked just as indifferent as always, and it didn’t seem like she was playing a trick on her.
“Huh-huh… Petra, you heard it, right?”
“Huh? Ah, yes, I heard it. It was a weird pow sound.”
“See! Petra also heard it! Ram, you must’ve…”
“Ram didn’t hear anything like that. Ram doesn’t have a reason to tell trivial lies, either. But if you really insist, then we can go check it out.” Saying that, Ram took a short breath and placed her foot on the stairs that led to the first floor from the hall.
“Wait!” Frederica shouted, grabbing her sleeve to stop her from doing something reckless. “We-We have no idea what could be up there. If something happens to you, then what am I going to tell Garf?”
“You may tell Garf that Ram went somewhere far far away. As for Master Roswaal, Ram is still thinking about that… Frederica, you’re just overreacting.”
“No I’m not! Look, even Petra is shaking a lot!”
“Sister, stop, my arms hurt… Ah. Th-That’s better.”
Petra complained since she was about to be hugged to death. Frederica reluctantly let go of her and hugged Ram instead.
“…What are you doing?”
“There’s definitely something in this mansion. The forest is dark at night, but we should get out of here for now. It’s necessary for everyone’s safety.”
“That doesn’t answer Ram’s question. Why are you hugging Ram?”
“I-I-It’s not what you think!” stammered Frederica. “I’m not scared!”
Frederica was unaware that she was spilling the beans herself. While burying Ram in her well-endowed chest, she slowly backed away and headed towards the entrance.
“I’m not scared,” said Frederica, trying to convince herself and failing, “but we should head back now. Come on, Petra, there’s nothing we can gain from staying here for too long.”
As she said this, Frederica pushed the door open in an improper way by using the side of her hips.
It was raining cats and dogs outside.
“It’s really coming down,” Ram observed.
“The road to the town is going to be quite muddy in this rain,” she added.
“No, we can reach it in a flash if I beastify and run with you two on me.”
“Sister Frederica!?” When Frederica started to unbutton her uniform in preparation for her beastification, Petra grabbed her arm. “No, don’t! Please calm down!”
“L-Let go of me, Petra. I do not like beastifying without taking my clothes off! It causes problems for me later since I end up having nothing to wear!”
“No, just don’t transform at all! It’s fine, you have nothing to worry about!”
Upon hearing Petra, who was holding on to her tightly, Frederica couldn’t bear to resort to using force. Watching Petra rebutton her clothes, she sighed deeply. “What should we do…” she wondered.
“Let’s just go ahead and find out what made that noise then,” suggested Petra.
“Th-That noise? Petra, are you serious?”
Unlike Ram, who seemed to have selective hearing, Petra must have heard the same sound as Frederica. But unlike her, Petra showed no fear.
“I guess this is how it feels to be surpassed by someone younger than you…”
“That’s a really quick declaration of defeat,” said Ram. “Haven’t you only been her mentor for two months?”
“Yes, yes, you are right! There are also those who do not respect their seniors and don’t even try to improve no matter how many years they are taught!” Frederica retorted, glaring at Ram, before turning to Petra in order to confirm her resolve. “But…are you sure, Petra?”
Petra, however, did not change her mind after getting asked a second time, saying, “Yeah, you can leave it to me,” with an energetic thump of her small chest.
She looked up at the first floor of the mansion with eyes full of enthusiasm. “Did the noise from before come from an animal? Or was it made by a hollow… But it could also be a moving doll. It’d be pretty amazing if it was…”
“Petra? Petra? Hey, what’s with that look in your eyes?”
Petra’s eyes sparkled with curiosity as she deduced that the sound was coming from upstairs.
“Wait! Don’t do it, Petra! W-What are you doing Ram!? Quick, we need to go after her!”
“With you weighing so much, you’ll only slow Ram down, Frederica.”
“No I don’t! You’re just being mean!”
Following Petra up the stairs, Frederica and an unwilling Ram also headed for the first floor. The uneasiness made Frederica hesitate for a moment, but her love for Petra was stronger. She took forceful steps up the stairs—and then, with a loud crash, the staircase gave in.
“Ha-eek!?” With a scream, Frederica fell through the middle of the stairs.
Frederica’s face instantly turned red, and Ram looked down at her from above. “You weigh too much, Frederica.”
“No, I don’t!!” she yelled, her face red, at Ram, who was looking up at her, before violently pulling herself out.
But falling through the floor had made her lag behind Petra, who had swiftly climbed the stairs.
“All of this and that is happening because… Haa…”
“You sighed again! I have told you many times that I do not weigh that much!” Frederica screamed, getting red in the face.
“Ram has said no such thing,” Ram replied, shrugging her shoulders and brushing her off. “There is a limit to how self-conscious a person can be.”
Frederica looked towards the hallway of the first floor and searched for Petra, who had gotten there before them. But she couldn’t find her. It was possible that she had gone into one of the rooms since she was nowhere to be seen.
“Jeez, is she in one of the rooms?” Petra! Where are…eek!?”
Frederica heard the explosion again the moment she called Petra’s name. It was closer this time, from right behind her. She quickly turned around, and her eyes met Ram’s, who was holding her elbow.
Looking completely unperturbed, she squinted her pink eyes. “What is it?”
“Yo-Yo-You really can’t hear anything? Or are you acting like that on purpose to make me feel anxious?”
“That’s a false accusation. Ram doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Uuh…I don’t know if you’re being serious or not since you usually act this way!”
Despite knowing her for a long time, she couldn’t tell whether Ram was being honest or was trying to fool her. That made her feel miserable, and she felt a momentary hatred for her.
This time, Frederica clearly heard an unfamiliar voice right after complaining to Ram. She slowly turned her neck, so slow that it felt like it was creaking, towards the source of the voice. But all she saw was a window of the mansion exposed to the wind and rain and slightly shaking.
“N-Now! Now!” stammered Frederica. “You heard a weird voice, right!? It said ‘Get out’!”
“…How arrogant of you. In this weather? You want Ram to get soaked?”
“It wasn’t me! Something else said that!”
“You probably mistook it for wind or something. You are being oversensitive.”
“And aren’t you being too insensitive? Do I look like I’m lying!?”
Despite her best effort to convey her message, Frederica’s words failed to change Ram’s mind.
Unable to bear Ram’s distrustful gaze, Frederica said, “Fine then,” giving up. “If you love it so much, you can spend the night here alone! I’m going to leave with Petra as soon as possible!”
“Ram doesn’t know what you’re so upset about…”
“Hmph! That! Anyway, I need to—Kyaaaaaeee?!”
Fueled by her anger for Ram, Frederica pushed down the growing fear and opened the door closest to her. A tremendous amount of rainwater had poured out from within, sweeping her away.
Caught by surprise, Frederica hadn’t been able to put up any resistance in time and fell into the hallway, instantly getting soaked from head to toe in rainwater.
“Rainwater must’ve leaked in and collected in this room.”
“Is something like that even possible!?”
“What else could it be?”
Ram lent the soaked Frederica a hand and helped her up. While she was standing up, however, she heard the sound of pottery breaking from the room at the end of the hallway. “Eek!? What is it this time!?”
“Just the wind. It probably knocked over a vase or something,” said Ram.
A voice passed by Frederica’s ears.
“I-It said ‘curse you’ this time!? Ra-Ra-Ra-Ram! What was that voice…”
“Just the wind. Wind comes in from everywhere since it’s an old building.”
“Wind doesn’t sound like that!!” cried Frederica.
After wringing out the water from her sleeves and skirt, Frederica took to the hallway again, her mind filled with worry for Petra. Petra might also be going through the same scary experience as me. Thinking that was the case, she couldn’t help but be anxious and think about rescuing her right away. So, that’s—
The moment thunder rumbled, and when the room became dark, and even when the cupboard fell and the dishes shattered and made a loud noise, which seemed like some sort of ill-conceived prank, Frederica’s first thought was about Petra.
—The story went back to the beginning the moment she screamed while hugging the smiling doll.
—The moment Frederica let out a scream, she felt her consciousness slipping away.
She reflexively let go of the doll, and it seemed like she was about to faint right then and there. However, the moment she let go of it, it thundered yet again, and a flash of lightning lit up her surroundings.
The doll that had gone flying was promptly caught by Petra. In her slender arms, before there could have been any sort of reaction from the doll—
“I won’t let you!!”
Pulling herself together, Frederica unleashed her survival instincts and went into survival mode. In that moment, her maid uniform exploded from within, from which the beautiful golden fur of a leopardess emerged. She transformed into a beast at a frightening speed, and once her hindlegs emerged, it was complete. She then charged forward like the wind and swept Ram and Petra off their feet.
Dragging their light bodies along, the transformed Frederica moved to the other end of the hallway in a single instant. Not even Garfiel could catch up to her when she raced at full speed.
She undoubtedly had the strongest legs in the Emilia camp. However…
She once again heard the doll she had left in the dust.
Frederica looked back and held back a scream. The doll had grabbed hold of her tail after she’d beastified.
She chomped her fangs. “Ram! Take care of Petra!”
Not waiting for a reply, Frederica left them in the hallway and then jumped straight up, breaking through the ceiling and going above the roof in one fell swoop. She rose rapidly in the rain, going towards the black clouds. The doll was still holding on to her tail despite now being in midair, but since the two people she wanted to protect were safe in the mansion, she didn’t feel like she had to hold anything back. She swung her tail with force, making the doll lose its grip and fall and smash into the roof.
“I will for sure—”
Deliver the final blow this time, Frederica thought, turning around in midair. She was about to charge in and sacrifice herself, but then she noticed something: practically identical dolls were crawling up onto the roof of the mansion one after another.
Frederica was at a loss for words. At that sight. At the pure horror in front of her. They all looked identical, including some that weren’t wearing clothes; nearly a hundred of them had followed her up to the roof. All their eyes fell on her above their heads—their eyes shined brightly.
Her fear, which had been replaced by her fight-or-flight response, resurfaced in that moment. Her legs trembled, her fangs chattered, her fiery eyes turned moist, and then the strength drained from her entire body. Frederica’s beastification was undone, and then she went into freefall right into the swarm of dolls.
And just like that, poor Frederica became their prey—
Just when she was thinking she was about to be beaten to a pulp, Frederica heard a firm voice and then widened her eyes in surprise. Right below her, inches away even, the dolls had their hands extended in her direction, and she imagined herself being torn limb from limb by those tiny hands. However, that didn’t happen.
The dolls caught the falling Frederica gently with their extended hands.
By using their many arms, the dolls tried to lessen the impact of the fall to the best of their ability. Frederica opened her eyes in surprise since the impact was softer than she had expected. When she turned her head, she met the gaze of the doll with cracks on its face. It was the very doll she had encountered in the hallway—
Frederica couldn’t detect any malice on the doll’s face. Right when she noticed that and went to say something to the doll… “Ahgeek!?” …she fell through the roof of the mansion that hadn’t been able to handle the impact or the weight of the dolls and then crashed into the hallway.
Ram stood in front of Frederica shaking her head and said, “This confirms it. You weigh too much, Frederica,” repeating it unapologetically for the third time.
“So, what are all these dolls anyway?”
Petra brought up the topic after roughly sealing the hole in the ceiling that Frederica had made in order to stop water from coming in. Many dolls were lined up on the floor of the entrance in front of her eyes. They were the source of the commotion that Frederica claimed to have seen and looked to be about a hundred times more than she had assumed. They were quiet now, but if Frederica’s story was true, they had been vindictive in their attempts to get rid of her, saying and doing things in their attempt to do so.
The dolls—which were a foot shorter than Petra—looked so lifelike that you would definitely be surprised if you came across one in the dark.
“This is a magic tool that was left behind in the mansion,” Ram revealed, putting her hand on the heads of the dolls.
Petra muttered, “Magic tool,” after hearing that, widening her eyes in surprise.
A magic tool is a special tool powered by a magic stone. They can be used in a variety of ways, such as an iron plate that emits heat when cooking, or to help create wind without the use of magic.
However, the fact that a moving doll was a magic tool was outside Petra’s common knowledge. “I didn’t know that such cute magic tools existed,” she said.
“They aren’t a common type though. Master Roswaal’s predecessor was a pioneer in creating magic tools, so he left behind many prototypes like these. Perhaps these are some of them.”
“They are ma-magic tools…?”
“Oh, Sister Frederica.”
While they were talking about magic tools, Frederica returned. She was completely drenched, not to mention naked since her beastification destroyed her clothes, so she gathered whatever fabric she could find in their luggage and around the mansion and created an outfit of sorts.
“Such a shameless appearance.”
“What was I supposed to do!?” cried Frederica in anger. “The change of clothes I brought and everything else in there got soaked because of the heavy rain, so I can’t wear any of them…but it wouldn’t have been an issue if you had just dried it all with your magic.”
“You want Ram to use her precious stamina just to dry some clothes? At least you can keep working despite your shameless appearance, unlike Ram who’d be unable to move. Endure it.”
“Stop saying shameless over and over,” Frederica said, frowning.
“Geez! Stop fighting!” Petra exclaimed, going in between her two sister figures who were arguing and serving as a mediator. “More importantly…”
She pointed at the dolls that were lined up.
The dolls moved their heads in unison and looked at Frederica menacingly.
“Eek! Wh-Why, why am I the only one being treated like an enemy…!”
“It’s not fair,” complained Petra. “I was more excited by the thought of meeting a hollow, but only Sister Frederica gets favored…”
“It’s not quite like that. Ram admits she doesn’t know much about this magic tool, but she can guess why it treated us differently.”
Ram began her explanation, and Frederica and Petra looked at each other and cocked their heads, making them look like real sisters. It was a lovely sight, but Ram didn’t smile at all. “Listen here,” she said, holding up a finger as she stood in front of the dolls. “This doll’s job is most likely to protect the mansion. Though the mansion has been abandoned for a long time, they are still following the orders they were given. So they were just trying to drive out intruders.”
“B-But, why only me? Leaving Petra aside, it’s unfair that you aren’t soaking wet too!”
“This isn’t a matter of fairness. And the reason we were treated differently wasn’t because of favoritism.”
With that said, Ram slowly walked across the entrance hall and stopped in front of the door. It was quite literally the front door that connected the inside of the mansion with the outside—
“People who enter through the entrance are guests. And people who enter from other places are intruders.”
“Ah.” Frederica gasped in surprise upon hearing Ram’s guess. She had certainly not entered through the front door but had indeed entered through a hole in the back of the mansion. But if that was the condition to draw the dolls’ ire then…
“Question!” quipped Petra. “I entered from the hole too. But they didn’t try to scare me away.”
“But you heard the sound that Ram couldn’t, right? If so, then there is a difference in the way people are treated.”
“A difference in treatment…so do they differentiate between adults and children then?”
“Ram thinks so. Adult intruders are treated like burglars, while child intruders are treated with more leniency… Perhaps they use something like height difference.”
“Argggh…” Things weren’t looking good for Frederica once things like height and build entered the equation. Anyway, Ram’s hypothesis is probably right, she thought. In fact, the dolls are surprisingly receptive to her orders since she is a guest. And the picture of her ordering them around really suits her.
“I don’t know why, but making the dolls follow you really suits you, Sister Ram.”
As Frederica was thinking that, Petra expressed the same thing.
“Obviously,” Ram replied, running her hand over her pink hair with a somewhat pleased look on her face.
“But I’m relieved. If we were being taunted by hollows this time, I would’ve run as fast as I could in the rain, soaking wet with you and Ram on my back…”
Good thing only one of us got soaking wet, she thought. Though she wasn’t sure if she should think like that, she forced herself to come to terms with it.
“But this is great,” said Petra. “If the dolls help out, it’ll take no time at all to fix the mansion up. By the way, you were so cute, Sister Frederica.”
“Pe-Petra!? What do you mean by ‘cute’…”
“She’s referring to the way you tremble and run around like a headless chicken. Looks like Ram isn’t the only one with a twisted personality.”
“My Petra’s personality is nothing like yours!”
Ram ignored Frederica’s furious protest and responded to it by covering her ears. On the other hand, the conversation went off track, so Petra didn’t go out of her way to answer. She looked at the dolls who looked as if they were waiting for their master’s orders, and with a twinkle in her eyes, said, “Hey, Sister Frederica, Sister Ram, I have a favor to ask…”
She turned to her two sisters and decided to convince them to humor her sudden idea.
“Ahh, this takes me back. I wonder how long it’s been since I was last heeere,” Roswaal muttered with deep emotions while squinting his bi-colored eyes.
After telling him they had something they wanted to show him, the usually busy Roswaal flew—quite literally—over to the villa to see them.
Frederica was bitter about his twisted personality, thinking that Petra would most likely soften up a little if he were to show that side of him more often.
“We have something to show you inside the villa.”
“Hmm, it was Petra who made the effort to call me. I wooonder if it’s okay to get excited?”
“How annoying, it was my idea. But from here on out we’re only supporting characters.”
“Supporting characters?” Roswaal repeated her words, tilting his head at her prickly expression.
Being forced to stand in front of the broken entrance, Frederica respectfully opened the door for him. Inside, Ram was waiting for his arrival, but that was not all.
Roswaal’s eyes widened at the sight of so many figures who came to greet him.
Welcoming him were one hundred and eleven neatly maintained dolls with clothes and makeup on—courtesy of Petra.
“They’ve been guarding the mansion for a long time… It only felt right that they be acknowledged for their work. They must’ve been waiting for their someone’s return for a long time, “said Petra to Roswaal, who just stood there.
That was Petra’s wish, which Frederica and Ram had accepted. Petra’s kindness was met with a nod of approval from Frederica from the beginning, and even though Ram didn’t say no she acted like it was a drag.
The three of them all shared the burden of changing the dolls’ clothes and make-up. None of them even considered cutting corners. Because, of course every doll was created by the previous Roswaal K. Mathers. And when it came to serving the Mathers family, they had fulfilled their duties for far longer than Frederica and the others. They were their seniors.
Taking in the warm welcome of the dolls, Roswaal took a step closer. “You guys stayed here all this time?” he asked, looking at the sea of dolls.
“I see… You increased your numbers in order to fulfill your duty. All this time you have been protecting this mansion and yearning for the day that its master would return.”
Their eyes were fixed on their master—Roswaal—as if they were hanging on to each and every word. As if moved by their gaze, Roswaal gently stroked the head of the doll in the front. “I’m back now—I’m sorry for keeping all of you waiting.”
The dolls bowed their heads reverently in response to Roswaal’s words of gratitude. “—Welcome home, Master.”
As Frederica, Ram, and Petra felt various emotions while looking at that scene, they suddenly noticed something.
“What…? They aren’t…moving…?”
The dolls had stopped moving after lowering their heads. Seeing this, Petra grumbled, and Roswaal shook his head slowly at her. “They have fulfilled their duty to the mansion. After tirelessly dedicating themselves to their duty, they can finally rest now.”
“Thank you. For giving me a chance to right a wrong,” he continued, before turning back around to face a teary Petra and placing his hand on her shoulder.
At that moment, Petra bit her lip hard and pulled away from Roswaal’s touch. She hid behind Frederica. And while hiding behind Frederica, she leaned to the side and glared at him. “Master, you dummy! Selfish! You’re always like this!”
“You’re right. I am always like this. You can expect to be veeeeery busy now that I’m here.”
He ignored Petra’s roaring anger and smiled wryly while taking in the scene around him. All he saw were lifeless dolls and a still-unrenovated mansion. In the end, they couldn’t rely on the dolls for help, so they had to renovate the mansion themselves.
But… “I think I’ll do something myself for a change… What should we start with?” asked Roswaal.
“Hmmm, are you sure?” questioned Frederica. “I am warning you; this won’t be easy.”
“Why, you can most certainly cooount on me.”
Frederica smiled and said, “Alright. Then go ahead and work him like an earth dragon, Petra.”
“Yes, ma’am! With pleasure!” she replied.
Their master rolled up his sleeves, which didn’t suit him, and the raging Petra told him what to do. Watching the comical scene unfold before her, Frederica smiled and turned to Ram. She was kneeling next to the doll that had completed its duty and whose time had stopped and was gently caressing its cheek.
“Thank you for your service, great senior—you can leave Master Roswaal to us now,” Ram said kindly.
To Frederica, seeing Ram do something like that was rarer than a hollow.